Have you ever heard about the benefits of collagen? No? Are you sure?
I mean you’ve probably used beauty products or shampoos to make your hair thicker. Or perhaps you’ve tried some rejuvenating facial creams.
If you still have any of these products on hand, check the label. You’ll undoubtedly find bold statements that boast the benefits of collagen in the product.
But the thing the beauty industry fails to tell you is this. If you want to truly enjoy the benefits of collagen, you need to take it internally. Collagen will not do much if you apply it externally.
So, are the benefits of collagen backed by science? And how do you consume it? Or do you need to supplement? Plus, is collagen the same thing as gelatin?
I’ll answer all these questions in this article.
What is collagen?
Did you know that collagen is the most abundant protein in the body? It is found throughout your body in your:
- Blood vessels
- Digestive system
There are 16 different types of collagen in the body. Type 1 accounts for about 90% of the collagen in our body and gives our skin its firmness. Type 2 collagen is found in our movable joints.
- ‘Collagen’ comes from the Greek word ‘kólla’ which means ‘glue’. In a way, you could picture collagen as the fibrous protein glue that holds your body in one piece!
- Gram for gram, Type 1 collagen is stronger than steel.
- Our body produces collagen. However, this production starts decreasing at about age 35.
- By age 40, our body’s collagen stores begin to diminish faster than the body can replace them. This is when ageing signs become more evident.
- As we reach 60, over 50% of the collagen in the body will be long gone.
Dietary sources of collagen
Besides containing collagen, the following foods are also rich in various nutrients that help the body produce collagen. These foods also contain nutrients that protect our body’s collagen against stressors such as UV radiation, toxins, and microbes.
1. Tougher cuts of beef that contains a lot of connective tissue.
Beef chuck or shoulder, beef round (the hind leg of the animal), and similar cuts of meats are rich in collagen. Make sure to cook the meat long enough and slowly (that is, on low heat) – this will ensure that your body can enjoy most of the collagen in the meat.
Especially the breast part. Again, you want to cook your chicken thoroughly on low to medium heat.
Research indicates that hen eggs contain collagen especially the yolks and the thick outer and thin inner membranes of the egg.
4. Bone broth
Why do you think chicken soup is a famous remedy for the common cold?
Yes, it’s warm and easy to swallow when you’re sick. But, more importantly, animal tissue, especially bones and connective tissue, are terrific sources of collagen.
Check out this video if you’re not sure how to make your own bone broth.
How can collagen help with the common cold? I’ll cover this in a bit. But first let’s talk about gelatin.
Collagen vs. Gelatin: Same thing, different names?
Although collagen powder and gelatin look and taste almost the same, they are not the same thing. Put simply, gelatin is the product you get when collagen is heated (during cooking, for instance).
Why should you care?
Simple: if a recipe calls for gelatin and you use collagen instead, you’ll have an epic (liquid) fail. Because collagen does not thicken liquids at all. However, a single tablespoon of gelatin is enough to firmly congeal two cups of liquid!
How can you tell the difference between collagen and gelatin?
Don’t worry, there’s no testing involved. You can simply check the label.
If a product mentions any of the following, know that you’re dealing with collagen powder:
- Collagen hydrosylate (most common alias)
- Collagen peptides
- Hydrolyzed collagen
- Hydrolyzed collagen protein
- Hydrolyzed collagen peptides
- Hydrolyzed gelatin(e)
- Hydrolyzed gelatin(e) collagen
What is collagen powder?
Collagen powder (hydrolyzed collagen) is made from collagen using a process known as hydrolysis. This process breaks down the collagen strands and chain of amino acids it contains into smaller pieces.
What is the difference between hydrolyzed collagen and gelatin?
While collagen and gelatin contain the same amino acids, the amino acid chains in collagen powder or hydrolyzed collagen are smaller due to the hydrolysis process. As such, the body may absorb over 90% of hydrolyzed collagen compared to about 27% or less in foods.
Moreover, pure gelatin will only dissolve in hot water whereas collagen powder will dissolve in both hot and cold water.
And as mentioned earlier, only gelatin will cause liquids to thicken – collagen will not. Just remember: only gelatin gels!
Now that you’ve been introduced to both collagen and gelatin, let’s have a look at the health benefits of collagen. Or is collagen just another food that has been over-mediatized?
Health benefits of collagen – you’ll probably be surprised
Since gelatin and collagen have the same amino acid profile, both products have similar health benefits.
1. Collagen is a helpful digestive aid.
Do you often have heartburns or feel bloated after eating? Or maybe you feel that your food just ‘sits’ in your stomach?
Well, these signs often indicate that you lack stomach acid. Taking collagen could help improve your digestion thanks to the glycine it contains. That’s because the amino acid glycine can normalize stomach acid production. In fact, supplementation with glycine was found to be therapeutic in cases of GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease).
Moreover, glycine also supports the production of bile which the body needs to digest fats and absorb fat-soluble vitamins.
But that’s not all: collagen remains hydrophilic (water-loving) even when you heat it. Since hydrophilic foods blend well with digestive juices, collagen can help your body better digest cooked food.
2. Collagen can help heal the gut.
Have you ever heard of increased intestinal permeability a.k.a. leaky gut?
In a nutshell, the intestinal cells possess tight junctions which allow nutrients in the body. These tight junctions also prevent toxins, undigested food particles, and harmful bacteria from entering the body.
However, if the gut is unhealthy, the tight junctions will remain open when they shouldn’t. This increases the gut’s permeability and causes the gut to become ‘leaky’. If this happens, harmful substances will be able to cross over into the bloodstream where they can cause a host of health issues.
For instance, a leaky gut has been linked to increased risks of depression, acne, autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalances, and various food sensitivities. A leaky gut also weakens the immune system and can make you more vulnerable to the common cold.
So how can collagen help?
Collagen contains glutamine, an amino acid that can help rebuild the damaged intestinal junctions. This restores the integrity of the gut which, in turn, tones down inflammation.
A healthier gut also equals a calmer and stronger immune system.
Moreover, collagen absorbs water and helps keep liquids in your gut. This can help improve intestinal transit, the amount of time food takes to move out of the body.
3. Collagen can keep your ticker in good shape.
What do you think keeps your blood vessels strong? Healthy collagen, of course! The body uses collagen to repair damage caused to blood vessels.
However, if your body does not have enough collagen, it will be forced to repair blood vessels by using plaque patches. Yes, these are build-ups of fat in the arteries which cause arteries to harden and increase the risks of heart disease.
In other words, getting enough vitamin C (to help your body produce collagen) and increasing your intake of collagen can help protect your heart.
4. Collagen alleviates fibromyalgia and joint pain.
In a small clinical study, hydrolyzed collagen was found to dramatically reduce fibromyalgia and joint pain.
You see, our joints are lined with cartilage, a connective tissue that absorbs physical shocks and helps with motion. This cartilage is mostly composed of collagen which reduces friction between the joints and keeps them supple.
However, chronic inflammation, a marker of autoimmune diseases like fibromyalgia and arthritis, can gradually damage this cartilage. This results in joint pain and stiff joints.
If you suffer from fibromyalgia and joint pain, increasing your collagen intake can help thanks to the amino acids glycine and proline. To boost the collagen’s effectiveness, try the autoimmune paleo diet which is effective at reducing inflammation.
5. Collagen repairs connective tissues.
Consuming collagen increases blood levels of collagen peptides (branches of amino acids that make up collagen). This, in turn, can help improve the composition and size of the fibers that make up connective tissues. Put simply, collagen can help strengthen connective tissues by enhancing their mechanical properties.
6. Collagen enhances liver function.
Collagen is naturally rich in the amino acid glycine which has been found to reduce liver damage caused by toxins or alcohol.
Glycine is involved in the liver’s phase II detox pathway where it binds to various toxins and facilitates their excretion from the body.
Check out this article if you’re interested in learning more about how to do an effective and natural liver detox.
7. Collagen can keep you full longer, naturally.
If you’re in a rush in the morning, you may want to add some collagen to a green smoothie. Research indicates that collagen proteins are 40% more satiating than other types of protein supplements. As such, consuming collagen may help you eat 20% less for your next meal.
8. Collagen can help build muscle mass.
Collagen is often touted as weight loss aid because it can regulate your blood sugar levels and help you eat less.
Moreover, since collagen is naturally rich in glycine, it can help your body build more lean tissue. This can, in turn, make it easier for you to control your weight.
9. Collagen is a natural sleeping aid.
As previously mentioned, collagen contains glycine, an amino acid that acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. What this means, is that collagen can reduce anxiety and help you feel calmer by inhibiting the action of the stress hormone norepinephrine. This hormone can cause feelings of anxiety, panic and restlessness which can interfere with sleep.
10. Collagen can improve hormonal balance.
By improving the amino acid balance in your body, collagen supports the body’s natural hormone production.
11. Collagen makes the skin look younger.
As we age, the body’s collage production decreases. And this shows up as fine lines and wrinkles accompanied by looser, less elastic skin.
One way to make your skin look younger again is to get more collagen in your diet. And this is backed by research.
In one study, women were given 2.5 to 5 grams of hydrolyzed collagen daily for eight weeks. At the end of the study, these women reported a considerable improvement in their skin’s:
- Elasticity – Wrinkles, fine lines and sagging skin are less visible when the skin is elastic.
- Moisture – Dry skin is more vulnerable to UV radiation, toxins, and bacteria. It also ages faster.
And, if you would like to get rid of stretch marks or cellulite, collagen is your friend. This protein can help make the skin firmer and promotes the growth of new cells in areas where the skin was damaged.
12. Collagen gives hair its strength.
Did you know that hair is mostly made of keratin protein? The hair follicles use the amino acids in the collagen to produce keratin protein. This is what keeps hair strong and shiny.
However, the decrease in collagen production that happens as we age damages hair follicles causing them to shrink. As a result, the hair becomes weaker and eventually we start losing more hair.
To remedy to this, try consuming more collagen. This can increase the production of keratin protein and helps strengthen the hair follicle thus reducing hair loss.
13. Collagen can make your nails less brittle.
A lack of collagen can cause nails to split and break easily. As mentioned earlier, collagen protein is the building block of nails. Therefore, increasing collagen consumption can help restore your nails’ health.
Collagen is definitely a health ally, right? But keep this in mind: it’s not enough to only increase your collagen intake. You also want to ensure that your overall lifestyle is not preventing your body from producing quality collagen.
The villains that mess with your body’s collagen production
Before talking about what to do to make it easier for the body to produce collagen, let’s cover the factors that decrease collagen levels in the body.
- Drinking alcohol and smoking. I guess this one should not shock anyone. After all, smokers often look considerably older than non-smokers. The same goes for people who enjoy booze on a regular basis.
- Excessive sun exposure. You have no choice but to work in the scorching sun day in and day out? Then make sure to eat these healthy foods to keep your skin healthy. And protect it from the inside against UV radiation.
- Nutrient deficiencies. To produce collagen, your body needs adequate supplies of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins A, C, E and the minerals zinc, selenium, silica. It also needs probiotics. To learn more about how to feed your skin, check out this article.
- Poorly managed stress. We all have to deal with stress. But when this stress goes on for too long, our hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis can start to dysfunction. This is commonly called ‘adrenal fatigue’ and can increase the body’s needs for vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium. And in this case, your body will rather give all the nutrients it can to soothe your adrenal glands at the expense of collagen production.
- Gut health issues. Do you often suffer from heartburns? Or maybe you’re all bloated after every meal? Perhaps you don’t have a daily, easy bowel movement? Or you have more than three bowel movements per day? Then your gut is screaming for help.If your gut is unhealthy, (i) your immune system will hog up even more nutrients to deal with inflammation. And (ii) your body will be less able to absorb nutrients. In other words, there won’t be much nutrients left for collagen production.
What can you do to boost your body’s collagen production?
Nope, you don’t need to voluntarily inject poison (Botox) in your body. Instead, tackle the obvious:
- Heal your gut.
- Stop smoking / drinking if you do.
- Practice stress management techniques.
- Wear a hat and garments that will cover your arms and legs if you’ll be in the sun for long.
You also want to eat a colorful diet that consists mostly of real foods such as:
- Foods rich in vitamins A and C like peppers, guava, kiwi, green leafy veggies, broccoli, and papaya. These two vitamins are involved in the production of healthy collagen.
- Wild fish like salmon, Atlantic mackerel, sardines, and rainbow trout. These fish are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids which protect our collagen from damage.
- Seafood like clams, oysters, and prawns contain zinc, a mineral that helps keep collagen strong and supple.
- Fermented vegetables are rich in sulfur, a nutrient the body needs to make collagen.
- Foods rich in silica like strawberries, cucumber, green beans, and mango. Silica plays an important role in the production of hyaluronic acid, a lubricating substance that retains collagen.
Do you need a supplement to get the benefits of collagen?
You can get all the benefits of collagen simply by eating more foods that are naturally rich in collagen at each meal. As discussed earlier, you can get collagen from beef, chicken, eggs, and bone broth.
But what if you can’t eat eggs, don’t like chicken breasts, tough cuts of meats and don’t feel like making bone broth? Then a hydrolyzed collagen supplement might be wise – you can add the powder to:
- Hot chocolate
- Green smoothies
Or you can buy gelatin powder to make homemade Jell-O, gummies, or mousse.
You don’t need to take the collagen or gelatin everyday – you can take it on days when you don’t eat foods that contain collagen.
Who would benefit from supplementing collagen daily?
If you have any of the following conditions, you may want to consider taking hydrolyzed collagen every day:
- Joint pain
- Poor digestion
- An unhealthy gut
- An autoimmune disease
- Significant hair fall
- Brittle nails
Of course, talk to your doctor before taking any new supplement.
Enjoy the health benefits of collagen by selecting the right product
There are various types of hydrolyzed collagen on the market:
- Bovine collagen – This is made from the cartilage, bones, and hides of cows.
- Marine collagen – To make marine collagen supplements, manufacturers use the scales, skin, bones and fins of fresh or saltwater fish.
- Chicken collagen – This is obtained from chicken feet, bones, and cartilage.
The type of collagen you select depends on your personal preference. But if you go for bovine collagen, make sure that it comes from grass-fed and humanely pastured animals.
The same goes for marine collagen – choose a product that certifies that it has used only sustainable wild fish and is GMO-free.
And for chicken collagen, you want to make sure that it was obtained from free-range chicken.
Remember to check the ingredient list.
I usually advise my patients to select either pure gelatin powder or pure hydrolyzed collagen powder so that they get the most bang for their buck.
Some websites will claim that liquid collagen is better because powders have a stronger taste. But what they fail to mention is that the liquid collagen they promote tastes better because they’ve added other ingredients!
You see, many products out there:
- Contain sugar which ages the skin (by damaging the skin’s collagen!).
- Sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners which adversely affect the immune system. And a weaker immune system = more inflammation and various health issues.
- Fillers that can mess with your delicate gut flora.
You’ll also come across products with added vitamin C, CoQ10, hyaluronic acid, and so on. Of course, these products also come with a bigger price tag.
My question is: is it worth paying more when you can get all the benefits of collagen or gelatin by adding a few more foods to your diet?
You also want to keep in mind that most vitamin C found in supplements come from GMO corn.
And check the serving size.
Most people just check the ‘amount per serving’ information on food supplements without checking what a serving size for that product is.
If, let’s say, you can get 3000mg of collagen per serving and a serving is 3 big pills, then you would have to swallow 3 pills per day. Is that something you’re okay with?
Note: If you suffer from a mast cell activation disorder or histamine intolerance, you may not be able to tolerate gelatin or hydrolyzed collagen.
Have you ever tried gelatin or hydrolyzed collagen? What benefits of collagen did you notice? And how did you use it? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.